Paneled Storefronts Again

Every week on our blog we choose a theme, and then bring you a variety of different buildings on that theme.

This week: revisiting old posts.

Act 2: More 1940s Storefronts.

Sometimes I find that just the very act of posting a blog entry generates more information. Just putting the post out there gets me thinking more about the topic, and maybe I think of a place to research that I missed earlier, or just realize that I need to take a closer look at the building itself. And of course, readers post comments. Sometimes they’ll know the answer to a question, or have the architect’s name, or – as in this case – they’ll know where to look to find more examples of the buildings I’ve just posted.

Both of these porcelain enamel panel storefronts are near Roscoe Village, and in fact one of them I’d photographed before, and then totally forgotten about it.

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The history of this Belmont Avenue storefront can literally be read right off the facade. Currently it’s home to a pub called Hungry Brain. Before that, it housed a laundromat, its applied letters leaving faint outlines. Originally, it had an attached neon sign, whose lettering was not legible.

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Orange Garden has obviously been a Chinese restaurant for a long time, what with the vintage neon sign. Combined with the stainless steel fluting and the porcelain panels, this storefront’s a real winner!

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And then, once I started looking for it, I realized that the panels, and the oatmeal texture porcelain enamel in particular, are everywhere. There’s a stretch of Broadway where three buildings in a row have paneled storefronts.

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One of my favorite Clark Street facades is made of metal panels:
Bell Auto

And then there’s this spectacular multi-store example on S. State Street:
Blue Star Auto

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With its battered neon sign, flaking painted signs, and 1940s-style blue paneled facade, Blue Star Auto Store is worthy of a whole post.

And just to round out the set, here’s one more black Vitrolite facade. Belle Kay on Lincoln Avenue is now home to LuLu’s vintage clothing store, and a more appropriate reuse I cannot imagine.

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And “belle” is indeed the word to describe that angular font.

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Vitrolite, sadly, isn’t a very good material for meeting the ground. It’s a type of glass, and glass snaps and shatters when anything hits it hard enough.

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Finally, a quick update on Erickson Jewelers in Andersonville: A banner announces that it will become a Potbelly’s location. The metal lettering has been removed to allow replacement of some of the Vitrolite panels. The neon sign has also been removed, hopefully / presumably for repairs. I’m hoping both elements will be coming back. The Intarwebs remain silent on the matter.

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Streamline Theaters

Today we visit four vintage theaters from the golden era of theater design, all of them beautifully restored in recent years.

Skokie Theater

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Our first stop is the humble little Skokie Theater, on Niles Center Road in downtown Skokie. The Art Moderne facade is a later addition to a circa-1916 building. After many years as a movie theater of varied genres, today this little gem serves as a small-scale (140 seats) concert venue.

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Of particular interest, the facade shares elements with both the styles I posted last week – the low-budget commercial Deco/Streamline storefronts, and the paneled WW2 storefronts.

  • Skokie Theater web site
  • Skokie Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • Wilmette Theater

    Also on the north shore, this little theater is the most humble of the bunch. Its main interest is that it shares the same porcelain enameled panels as most of the 1940s storefronts from last week.

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    The Wilmette Theater is part of the Metropolitan Block, a World War I-era building that got a partial face lift during the Depression.

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    Lake Theater

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    A fully-illuminated theater is something that should be seen by both day and night. Sadly, I haven’t made it out to Oak Park in the daylight since finding this remarkable Deco waterfall.

    The Lake Theater (on Lake Street, natch) dates from 1936 (architect Thomas W. Lamb). The spectacular marquee remains fully illuminated, as does the vertical theater name sign, which lights up letter by letter, top to bottom, before blinking off again. Inside, the theater has more recently become home to salvaged artifacts from other Chicago theaters that no longer stand.

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  • Lake Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • Official history at Classic Cinemas
  • York Theater

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    The York Theater (York Road, Elmhurst) looks sharp by day… but it’s at night that this facade truly comes alive.

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    Curved neon follows the sensuous lines of the facade, uniting the building and its marquee into a single entity. The structure was only 14 years old in 1938, when architect Roy B. Blass replaced its Spanish-influenced facade with a new, ultra-up-to-date facade in the Art Moderne style.

    Like the Lake Theater, the York is owned by the Classic Cinemas company, who have taken superb care of both places and runs on a business model of celebrating historic theater design. Also like the Lake, the York has survived into the present as a viable first-run theater by gobbling up adjacent retail space for conversion to additional theater screens. Combined with the triplexing of the original auditorium, this has brought the York up to a total of nine screens.

    If you visit the York and your timing is right, you can also visit the offices of the Theatre Historical Society of America – they’re located in an upstairs office right next to the theater.

  • Official history at Classic Cinemas
  • York Theater at Cinema Treasures
  • 1940s Storefront Facades

    We cap off our little survey of commercial Art Deco with a style that’s not really Deco: the circa-World War II paneled storefront.

    Lincoln Tap Room
    Lincoln Tap Room – Lincoln Avenue

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    Western Automatic Music – Western Avenue

    R.V. Kunka Pharmacy
    R. V. Kunka Pharmacy – Archer Avenue

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    This one, on Armitage, actually has more in common with the corner Deco buildings from previous posts. But the colors are more 1940s-style.

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    Kiltz’s Bakery – W. 63rd Street

    Kiltz’s shares a material and finish style with the next two, a sort of smooth-finished texture with a lumpiness to it. For a while it fooled me into thinking it was terra cotta, but if you walk up and tap it, you’ll discover that it’s a hollow metal panel with a baked-on coating, presumably a form of porcelain enamel.

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    Parkway Cleaners and Taylors – Diversey Parkway

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    Ed & Erv’s Centrella Food Mart – Touhy Avenue

    Parkway and Ed & Erv’s also share enough design elements to make them look like the same designer’s work. The white polished cleanliness of the designs is highly fitting for their occupants.

    At the other end of the health spectrum, the Rothschild Liquors chain became their own mini-genre of storefront, all paneled in red and finished out with stylish neon signs:

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    717 East 87th Street

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    1532 West Chicago Avenue

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    425 East 63rd Street

    A quick Google search turns up two more Rothschild stores with facades of the same vintage, one in red, one in white.

    And finally, the black Vitrolite panel storefront, exemplified by two fine northern city storefronts:

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    Erickson’s Jewelers, Clark Street in Andersonville

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    Paul J. Ouetschke & Co., Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square

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    Unlike the baked metal panels above, Vitrolite is basically a form of glass, about a quarter inch in thickness, and sadly prone to breaking under impact.

    And with those dimensional letters, we’re clearly on the path to full-blown Midcentury. Bring it on!